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High School Hellcats

Part One of J.D.'s & Rocket-Bras

     "I make the rules around here!"

-- Connie, the most hellacious Hellcat of them all  




Gonzoid Cinema




"But, daaad, all the kids are wearing these to school!"


Watch it!



Best Bet:

Sights &
High School
 Indio Productions /
 American International

The Spider
The Recycled
Epics of
Edward Bernds.

The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters

World Without End

Reform School Girl

High School Hellcats

Space Master X-7

Return of the Fly

Valley of the Dragons


Our nifty little potboiler begins in the little girl’s room at the local high school. Seems there’s a new girl starting today, and Connie (Jana Lund), the leader of the all girl-gang, The Hellcats, has called a meeting and wants to initiate the newbie into the fold by using the dreaded "slacks" test to see if she’s true Hellcat material. With that announcement, Dolly (Susanne Sidney), Connie's second in command, throws her switchblade toward the wall, and when it sticks, this triggers the opening credits, accompanied by a typical American International spazzed-out jazz riff wailing on the soundtrack. (A riff we’ll be hearing again and again and again…) When the class bell rings, much to the girl’s delight, they find a substitute teacher filling in today. Better yet, a male substitute -- teaching home economics no less. Making her way to an empty desk, the new girl, Joyce (Yvonne Lime), watches as the overwhelmed teacher asks the class to take their seats; to which Connie replies with the tried and true "Where shall we take ‘em teach?"

Bwahaahaahha! Sorry, but man, that joke cracks me up every single time...

Things quickly degenerates from there, with the girls raising such a big ruckus that it sends the Sub crying to the principal. Telling one of her stooges to watch the door, Connie and the others quickly circle around Joyce. Told if she wants to survive and be popular in school, Joyce had best join The Hellcats. When Joyce fearfully agrees, Connie says it isn’t that easy and she’ll have to pass a few tests first, and as the party breaks up, she also tells Joyce to be sure and wear slacks to class tomorrow. (Finally, the dreaded slacks test.)

The next morning, we meet Joyce’s parents: Roger and Linda Martin (Don Shelton and Viola Harris). A hard working lawyer, Roger thinks his daughter shouldn’t wear so much make-up, or those tight fitting sweaters, and Kid’s need more discipline is his constant mantra. Linda, meanwhile, is so involved with her bridge club and social circle she never has a clue what her daughter is ever up to. Appearing to be just another typical morning breakfast at this household, Dad has yet another conniption with Joyce’s choice of wardrobe before grumpily driving her to school. But when Joyce waltzes into her health and physical wellness class (-- you know, when all the guys had to go to the gym while the girls had to go to the library to see the *ahem* "special" film), the girl discovers she’s been had ... None of the other girls wore slacks. Luckily, Ms. Davis (Rhoda Williams) is one of the few cool teachers The Hellcats don’t give trouble to. (She explains later that it’s because she actually respects the kids.) Her classes are usually an open forum and the topic of the day is boys and the mating habits of the American teen. Cool or not, Davis soon discovers Joyce’s attire and asks if anyone put her up to breaking the school’s dress code. (I believe she’s seen this type of hazing before.) Joyce doesn’t rat Connie out, but is so upset and embarrassed, she runs out of the class -- and right off the school grounds!

Finding her way to a coffee shop, the young owner, Mike Landers (Brett Halsey), sees she’s upset and tries to get her to talk about it. When Joyce tells him what happened, she discovers he's well aware of the hooligan Hellcats. Warning her to stay away from them a little too emphatically, she tells him to butt-out and storms off again ... Going home to an empty house, Joyce's parents eventually show up but pay no attention to the obviously troubled teen. Later, she receives a phone call from Connie with an invite to a party. When Joyce arrives at the abandoned movie theater, she's escorted up to the balcony -- The Hellcats home away from home. Informing the newbie that by not ratting them out she's passed the first of three tests, making her a probationary member. But even for probies there are a few ground rules: namely you can’t be an egghead, a show-off, or a teacher’s pet, and one must never -- EVER reveal the location of their secret fort. Ready for round two, the next test is to steal something, and while Connie and Dolly run interference, Joyce steals a pair of earrings. Later, they wind up at Mike's coffee shop. Pretending to give him the cold shoulder while the other girls are around, Joyce secretly arranges to meet Mike later on -- alone.

After they hook-up, the couple head for the beach, where Joyce confesses to Mike about her experiences so far with The Hellcats. She also reveals that she technically didn’t steal the earrings because she left some money for them. Unable to understand why she would want to join the group, Joyce echoes Connie’s statement of a need for a "home away from home" and says she "has to belong to something." Not buying it, Mike says to consider herself lucky because she has good parents and a place to live. He's right, of course, but Joyce just wishes her parents would show at least a little interest in what she’s doing. They embrace, the waves crash against the rocks, and they kiss. (You figure it out!)

The next day at school, Connie has come up with the last test: Joyce has to ask Riff for a date while he’s talking to his girlfriend, Teri. At this point, we also notice that Dolly isn’t very happy with all the attention Connie’s been giving to Joyce. (Nope. No lesbian subtext there. This is the 1950's. Move along folks, nothing to see here...)They both watch as Joyce passes the last test as Riff dumps Teri on the spot for a chance to go out with a Hellcat on a Saturday night.

On Saturday afternoon, Mike and Joyce have a fight over the party she’s being forced to attend. (Forced?) Ending badly, Mike angrily drives off while Joyce glumly gets ready for her other date. Downstairs, her parents are bickering again ... Mom thinks they need a private vacation, but dad won’t let his daughter stay home by herself. Before Joyce can leave, her dad gets in a few shots on her make up and dress, and after she's gone, the parental bickering continues unabated.

When Joyce, Riff, Connie, and her date, Freddy, arrive at the rocking party, almost immediately, Riff tries to get Joyce drunk, and when she refuses to drink or dance, he dumps her for another girl. Later on, Freddy announces it’s time to play a game of Sardines, where the person who draws the lowest card has to run around in the dark and identify as many people as he/she can. (What does this have to do with sardines? Let me get back to you on that...) When the lights go out and all the girls squeal, and as Joyce fights off a phantom groper, a blood-curdling scream quickly drowns everything else out. Then the lights come back on, revealing Connie’s dead body at the bottom of a staircase!

Swearing everybody to secrecy before kicking them out, Riff and Freddy start cleaning up the place. Turns out the real owners are out of town, so not only is there a murderer afoot, they’re all trespassers as well. (Darn kids!) Driving the shell-shocked Joyce home, the boys find Mike there waiting, wanting to apologize to her. Thinking he’s a cop, a fight breaks out but Mike makes quick work of Riff and Freddy. After they're run off, Joyce convinces him not to call the cops as they head over to Mike’s place so she can treat his wounds. Visibly upset about something besides the fight, she adamantly refuses tell Mike what happened.

Monday at school, when The Hellcats meet, Dolly immediately takes charge. Convinced that someone pushed Connie down the stairs, Dolly swears if she ever finds out whodunit she’ll kill them. Dolly then punctuates this threat by turning a wrathful, accusing-eye on Joyce. Later, Ms. Davis is called to the principals office to meet with Lt. Manners (Robert Anderson). There to investigate Connie’s disappearance, he asks her to identify who the missing girl's friends were, and then send them in one at a time for a little interrogation. Eventually, it’s Joyce’s turn, but she doesn’t crack or confess anything. (Party? What party?) She does finger Dolly as Connie’s best friend (-- Connie? Connie who?), so Manners asks to see her next.

During the interview, Dolly slips up by referring to Connie in the past tense (-- the cops only thought she was missing), and then clams up and refuses to cooperate any further. (You’ll never break me, copper!) After completing the interviews, Manners can’t quite decide if the girls are telling the truth or if it’s all one big organized lie. He talks to Ms. Davis again, since the girls seem to trust her, and asks to be kept in the loop if they confide anything to her about Connie's whereabouts.

That evening, while on a date with Mike, when a newsflash on the radio announces the discovery of Connie’s body, Mike feels it’s good riddance to bad rubbish. And though Joyce is shaken by the news, she still won't reveal what's been bothering her so much lately. But she does promise to quit The Hellcats as soon as possible ... The next day at school, Joyce visits Ms. Davis but can’t quite confess to her either. Seeing this, Dolly gives Joyce a note saying that there is an ultra-secret Hellcat meeting later that night at the old theater. Wanting to quit right there on the spot, Dolly won’t let her because there a few things that have to be settled at the meeting first. After school, two other Hellcats approach Ms. Davis. They found Dolly’s note about the secret meeting, but no one else was told about it. Scared because Dolly thinks Joyce killed Connie and wants revenge, the girls then make a full confession about the party.

As Ms. Davis calls the police, Mike drives Joyce to the theater. Reaffirming that she’s quitting and will be back in ten minutes, Mike lets her go in alone -- but warns he will come in after her if she blows the deadline. Inside, Joyce finds Dolly -- and her switchblade! After chasing Joyce up into the balcony, Dolly confesses that she was the one who pushed Connie down the stairs in a jealous rage, convinced that Connie was trying to replace her in the Hellcat hierarchy. Outside, when the police pull up and storm the theater, Mike follows them in. Upstairs, as Dolly stabs at Joyce, she manages to avoid the blade. Wildly lunging at her victim again, Dolly misses badly and plunges over the balcony railing and smashes into the seats below. It's all over, and Mike and Joyce embrace.

Epilogue: After Joyce tells the police that it was Dolly who killed Connie, and was trying to kill her, too, Lt. Manners tells her to go home and come to the station in the morning to make a full statement. While Mike takes her home, Ms. Davis telephones her parents and explains to them what happened to Joyce, and about Mike. Only after an attempted murder do her parents begin to see the light, and they welcome home their daughter with open arms and invite Mike to come inside with them.

The End

High School Hellcats is yet another solid "troubled teen" effort from American International Pictures and director Edward Bernds. Solid is the best word I can come up with when I think about AIP films. No frills. No bells. No whistles. Just a workman like effort that always manages to entertain. As with most AIP films, though, the posters prove a lot more entertaining than the film itself. Hellcats is no different; the lurid poster promises one thing, but delivers something completely different. (See illustrations.) But also, as usual, with an AIP picture, there is more going on here than the titillating title lets on. You could easily write this off as another low-budget exploitation quickie, but Mark and Jan Lowell's script has a little more meat to it than usual. 

Their best scenes are with Joyce and her parents. These are good people and provide her with every material need, but are completely ineffectual if she needs help or support emotionally. Her father rides her constantly about the way she dresses -- and even slaps her once when she gets a little too mouthy. Horrified about what he’s done, he still doesn’t have an answer when he asks "Why did I do that?" And later, when she really needs to talk to him about the deadly party, dear old dad basically hides behind his newspaper until she's gone. Meanwhile, Mom is too busy with her social activities and can’t fit Joyce into her schedule. And then there is that real disheartening scene where Ms. Davis tries to arrange a meeting with the mother over the phone to discuss Joyce’s problems. She tries for three consecutive Saturday’s with no luck. And later, when mom tells dad that the two of them should take a vacation, and he asks if she's forgetting about Joyce, I’m not sure what’s more disturbing -- the fact that she did forget about her daughter, or the fact that she seems disappointed that her only child just ruined her vacation plans.

All of this comes to a boil when Joyce talks to Mike about why she wants to join The Hellcats. It’s because this gives her the feeling of belonging. (Sound familiar?) She feels her parents aren’t really interested in her but the Hellcats are. Which leads us back to the "home away from home" quote. Which should be interpreted literally as a physical safe home away from her real home.

As usual, American International sides with the younger generation -- much to the delight of its target audience. When her father grounds her, Joyce bites back that children have rights as well as responsibilities. Apparently, Sam Arkoff used to screen the movies to his own teenage kids to get a feel if they got it right. Arkoff disagreed with Walt Disney’s view of teenagers and felt AIP movies needed to be more realistic. And you have to hand it to Arkoff and Nicholson for taking a stand like that. While everyone else was blaming juvenile delinquency on rock-n-roll, comic books and the movies they we’re making, they answered with a film saying the problem lies not in these things but in the growing dysfunctional family. 

Has anyone else noticed that this is the 1950's we’re talking about? And we’re still arguing the same causes and effects fifty years later?

High School Hellcats (1958) Indio Productions :: American International / EP: James H. Nicholson, Samuel Z. Arkoff / P: Charles Rogers/ AP: Lou Kimzey / D: Edward Bernds / W: Jan Lowell, Mark Lowell / C: Gilbert Warrenton / E: Edward Sampson / M: Ronald Stein / S: Yvonne Fedderson, Brett Halsey, Jana Lund, Susanne Sidney

More J.D.'s & Rocket-Bras!

Originally Posted: 09/29/00 :: Rehashed: 04/18/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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